Saturday, October 31, 2015

Frolicking on the China Sea

October 28, 2015

Frolicking on the China Sea
(Herman Tiu Laurel Blog)

The Bully treads gingerly
Instead of lording it over Asia like it used to in the 20th Century, barging around the countries of East Asia, including what used to be called Indochina, like a drunken sailorwrecking everything in its path, the U.S. now has to take gingerly steps in showing that it can still assert itself in this second decade of the Asian 21st Century.  That’s thanks to China’s rise and pushback on the U.S. hegemon’s bullying away from the shores of Asia’s mainland to the farthest reaches of the South China Sea.

Pushed 1,000 km. away from Hainan
In the 1954-1955 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the U.S. sent its Seventh Fleet to intervene in Taiwan, bullying the People’s Republic of China (PRoC) by its superior guns and warplanes.  In 2001, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) scrambled its J-8 interceptor fighter jets to warn away an intruding U.S. Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft entering China’s air space; the encounter resulted in the crash of one J-8 fighter with its pilot never found and the U.S. plane’s forced landing and capture on Hainan Island.

In 2013, China declared an East China Sea ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) overlapping Japan’s ADIZ, which the latter declared in 1969 covering its EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and protruding midway into China’s new ADIZ.  After a year of tumult in the Western press about it and a few challenges by U.S. planes flying across the zone triggering alerts and warnings from China,this new East China Sea ADIZ has already become an accepted fact. Now the hubbub is over China’s maritime-use reclamation projects in the South China Sea, near Subi and Mischief reefs, about 1,000 km. from Hainan.

But a new line has been written in the sand,as the Global Times--the most militant of the three main Chinese official newspapers (along with China Daily and People’s Daily)--of October 27, 2015 had this to say of the U.S. Navy-guided missile destroyer USS Lassen’s “tour” within the 12 nautical miles of China’s reclaimed islands:“After the show, it’s time for the U.S. destroyer to leave.”  That “tour” was essential for the U.S. to shore up its severely weakened image globally and to its few remaining admirers in Asia.

China will indulge the U.S. as long as it does not go beyond self “ego massage.”This much had been what University of the Philippines maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal phrased very diplomatically during a Round-Table-Discussion early this October at the Ateneo de Manila: “Don’t expect a U.S.-China ‘hot’ war, it won’t happen.  Soft and hard power are being employed from both sides as a new global multipolar order is an accepted, though unexpressed, given already.”

The Philippines should take its cue from Britain
President Xi Jinping of China’s 4-day visit to the U.K. from October 20to 24 has been dubbed as a new “golden era” of Chinese-British relations marked by spectacular agreements signed between the two countries that were erstwhile bitter protagonists from the 19th Century through the Opium War until the hand-back of Hong Kong to China. Even as the U.S. expressed dismay over the U.K.’s joining of the AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank), which is seen to weaken the U.S. dollar’s domination, the U.K. has expanded its ties with China.

The U.K. and China signed agreements ensuring cooperation in economic, cybersecurity, and military matters, all marking the high point achieved in establishing a harmonious relationship between the two countries; but the most spectacular economic deal concluded was the Hinkley Point nuclear power station that a Chinese state-owned company will invest £6 billion in when it is built in 2025. Besides this, an air agreement to bolster travels between both countriesthat will boost the British economy, along with several collective oil and gas projects, were finalized, capping a total of $62 billion deals signed.

Meanwhile, still on the wish list of the U.K. is its bid to become the center of renminbi currency trading, which the People’s Bank of China has signaled to be in the offing. This is important to London as it wants to jump the gun on the rest, as one British magazine quoted Standard Chartered Europe Chief Executive Richard Holmes,“We’re seeing the internationalization of the Renminbi growing at a pretty brisk pace here… There’s a lot further to go. And that’s due to what I view as the end of U.S. dominance.”A Euronext NV commissioned study forecasts that as much as $5 trillion of Chinese money will flow into assets on European exchanges before the decade is up.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is set to give the green light to China’s yuan joining its currency basket this November. This will place the yuan on par with the dollar, yen, euro, and pound sterling. France and the United Kingdom are backing the yuan's inclusion and countries such as Germany and Italy have expressed openness to the inclusion of the yuan.  The Philippines, which is being stirred to “gung ho” insanity by the U.S. naval ship USS Lassen’s brush of China’s reclaimed South China Sea island at Subi, should sober up and take a cue from American’s own cousins thatcooperation with China is more beneficial than confrontation.

Indonesia: Third Parties, U.S. not needed
While Western and Philippine mainstream media will try to make much of the news released on October 29 of The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s(or Tribunal’s) claimed jurisdiction over the case the Philippines filed against China on the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea to declare features in the disputed area as “rocks” and not “islands,” a consequence I predicted much earlier based on understanding the self-serving interests of the Tribunal and its personnel, this involvement of “third parties” to Asian and ASEAN concerns is not universally welcomed.

Two weeks before the Tribunal claimed jurisdiction,Indonesia’s defense minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told state-run news agency Antaraat the ASEAN-China defense ministers’ meeting that countries with conflicting South China Sea claims can engage in negotiations in order to calm tensions and resolve issues on their own, saying, “There’s no need to involve other parties in resolving the dispute.”  Ryacudu was, in fact, reported to have averred to an ASEAN-China joint South China Sea patrol during Indonesian President Jokowi’s visit to the United States(see The Diplomat, Oct. 17, 2015, “China Reveals New Proposal to Boost Defense Ties with ASEAN States”).

While the U.S. and the exiting Philippine government expect to gain propaganda mileage from the Tribunal, the reality on the ground (or the waters) is that China’s reclaimed islands are there to stay and China will never participate in anything that involves third parties to the bilateral issues between it and a very small minority of ASEAN members. This tactic of rooting the Tribunal on is to provide an excuse to keep the Philippines from engaging China and to continue U.S.-Japan monopoly over Philippine foreign policy.

After provocation, U.S. talks
While the BS Aquino government continues its infantile policy of “no talks” with China and drumbeats on the USS Lassen’s excursion into Chinese waters, the U.S. does otherwise.

The commander of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, is scheduled to visit China on November 2, 2015 where talks with Chinese military officials will be held to discuss bilateral military exchanges. The talks were planned before the USS Lassen sailed on Subi Reef waters, which may indicate that the entire scenario was scripted and the provocation carefully timed.

Harris’ talks will certainly include discussion on measures between the two military establishments to avoid “misjudgements” and “unintended consequences” amid the tango to ensure “freedom of navigation” for both sides in the South China Sea. The frolicking of these two navies may be a prolonged dance over the next months and years.  And it is something that Asia and ASEAN will have to get used to in no time at all.

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